In Dad Bod, Cian Cruise dives deep into various social notions of fatherhood by examining tropes and archetypes in pop culture father figures (the titular ‘dad bods’). His essays are all framed within the experiences of being a new father himself, which adds a lovely sense of personal stakes to his ideas.
When for example he complains about the bumbling sitcom dad trope (Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, Al Bundy from Married…with Children), his language may be somewhat detached, a professional arts critic commentating on an artistic trend. But his concern isn’t just academic, it’s personal. His perspective is that of a new father trying to figure out how to be a good father to his own son, and frustrated by the dearth of good role models in popular media.
Thus, it’s fitting that for each trope Cruise critiques, he also includes a character he considers an exemplar of that archetype. A bumbling sitcom dad, for example, or an adventure dad, who embodies all the core traits of that persona while still demonstrating how to be a good — never perfect, but good — parent to their kids. I find that these examples helped me tremendously in understanding how a sometimes-harmful trope about dads can actually become aspirational.
For example, Cruise posits Johnny Rose from Schitt’s Creek is an example of who the bumbling sitcom dad could be. Like Homer Simpson or Al Bundy, Johnny often gets things wrong. His good intentions often land him and his family in hilarious predicaments. Yet unlike Homer Simpson or Al Bundy, Johnny isn’t a total incompetent man child whom his wife has to care for; rather, he’s a complex, textured individual who genuinely cares for his family, tries his very best to care for them, and, most importantly, actually succeeds as often as he fails. In other words, he’s a real person, and his character shows how one can be hapless without being helpless. As Cruise describes Johnny Rose, it’s easy to imagine Cruise, and fathers like him who read his book, feeling solace in Johnny’s character, in knowing they can often feel totally out of their depth, yet still pull through for their loved ones when it matters.
There have been so many think pieces about the limitations of the bumbling sitcom dad trope, that I’m glad to see Cruise explore many other tropes in this book. I hadn’t really considered the implications of The Distant Driven Dad (think Indiana Jones’ father), or The Dads of Destiny (think Gandalf and Obi Wan Kenobi). I was also unfamiliar with some of the references Cruise used, and I loved reading Cruise’s thoughts about the archetypes they represented. One example is the character of Pappas, whose story, told in the prologue of the video game Dragon Quest V, is heartbreaking in its impact on the main character. On one hand, it’s a fairly standard vengeance story arc, but on the other hand, I love how Cruise shows how Pappas’ story turns the main character’s story full circle, from being a child who sees his father Pappas as larger than life, to a father himself, growing to be larger-than-life for his own children. I also love learning about Bandit, the father character in the children’s show Bluey, and how he goes all in when playing imaginative games with his children.
Dad Bod is a quick, interesting read, and, I imagine, a comforting one for many parents out there. It doesn’t quite show a road map of how to be a good parent, but it does give some examples of good parenting one may want to emulate. And particularly for new fathers, it gives some fictional role models they may want to view themselves on media. Whether readers see themselves as an adventuring dad, a driven dad, or a playful dad, Cruise has a pop culture character for you, and some thoughts of how to channel your own interests towards being a good parent.
Thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.